Often times when I interview a prospective client, a typical mantra I hear is “my spouse is such a ‘charmer’ and everyone that meets my spouse loves him/her, but behind closed doors my spouse is verbally and emotionally manipulative and abusive.” It is this outside persona that initially attracts people to a narcissist in that outwardly, they appear to be attractive, well groomed, successful professionally, and very engaging. However, in a long-term relationship, a narcissist usually proves to lack empathy, has an inability to relate to their partners, and has difficulty maintaining close relationships.
“Gaslighting” is when the narcissistic spouse manipulates the other spouse by psychological means into questioning their own sanity, is very prevalent in relationships that have broken down resulting in people coming to me for divorce. Often times, I have observed that this “gaslighting” can be so severe that the impact upon the abused spouse is so harmful that he or she has tremendous self-doubt and can only focus on what the narcissist demands, even though such demands often times can never be satisfied. Ultimately, with a narcissist, the specific demand is not the end game; rather it is compliance, obedience and control that the narcissist craves. A typical narcissist has such a grandiose view of him or herself that a true narcissist can never accept fault or responsibility and therefore has to project that upon the abused spouse. The only way to functionally divorce a narcissist is for the abused spouse to manage his or her expectations and focus on controlling only the things that person can control, as the narcissist will not and in most circumstances, cannot change.
Focusing on your own behavior and those things that you can control is a small step toward taking back control of your life and resolving your divorce successfully and on your terms.
James M. Quigley, Divorce and Family Law Partner